This paper will develop three themes. First, I show that the democratization, federalism, and nationalism literatures have been developed in relatively mutual isolation and that we can only make more meaningful and powerful statements about comparative federalism if we relate the three literatures to each other. Second, I demonstrate that all federal systems constrain the lawmaking capacity of the democratically elected legislators at the center. However, I argue that it is analytically and politically fruitful to study democratic federal systems as existing along a demos-constraining to demos-enabling continuum. I also make a strong case that at all points in the continuum, federal institutions can have a great impact on policy. I can not develop these arguments without directly addressing and confronting the most influential political scientist who has written on federalism, the late William H. Riker. Riker’s classic and still influential arguments about federalism stand in fundamental opposition to those I advance in this paper. Once these conceptual and methodological debates about federalism have been addressed, in the third part of the paper, I construct and operationalize the analytic framework of the demos-constraining continuum, by evaluating four propositions about federalism, using data from India, Germany, Spain, the United States, and Brazil.
federalism; democracy; Riker